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April 2003 was the cruelest month for the people of Iraq, a month of reflection on Pakistan by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and a rare opportunity for Worldview India, a dedicated group of Indian journalists who helped lift the mist from the historic events that month. Americans had occupied Iraq, by April 3. Vice President Dick Cheney, the real author of the operation, was eager to declare victory on April 9. It was to be a spectacular media event. After all, Cheney had embedded 300 plus journalists with the forces.
The choreography was audacious. In a prepared statement, Dick Cheney would declare victory on Global Media. This statement would be interspersed with images of an ecstatic, popular upsurge pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussain at Firdous Square. Cheney’s talking head would alternate with the slow fall of the statue. Cheney would never have dreamt that all the back-channel tricks that had gone into the manufacture of the memorable spectacle would be exposed. For the first time in the history of Indian journalism, Worldview India had posted camera units/cum reporters in Baghdad, Najaf, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Amman, Lebanon. Some of these reporters happened to be in a Palestine hotel, witness to the real story — the one the world was not supposed to know.
Contrary to the narrative of a popular uprising toppling the statue, the Americans had to think on their feet: they had to improvise the iconic images because the popular upsurge had simply not materialized. US marines were mobilized to ‘lasso’ the neck of the statue and have it pulled down by cranes. CNN, the premier cheerleader for the occupation, has to this day incorporated a video of the statue as a lasting symbol of Americans replacing a “brutal” dictatorship with democracy.
As we know from the experience of various “color revolutions”, camera angles can amplify a handful of people (in this case the workers of Palestine hotel) into a revolution on the march. True, the sole superpower can arrange for a statue to be pulled down, but how does it show images of crowds celebrating Saddam Hussein’s fall?
1991-92 Shia uprising in Najaf and Karbala encouraged by operation Desert Storm was harshly put down by Saddam Hussein. The only images of the damaged shrine of Imam Hussain were brought to the world by a TV crew led by this reporter. The Shia refugees from this almost unreported conflict had been settled in a vast ghetto on the outskirts of Baghdad. It was named, like much else in Iraq those days, as Saddam City. It dawned on Cheney’s team that one group of people thrilled at the “fall of Saddam” were actually the inmates of the nearby ghetto, teeming with disgruntled Shias.
A deal was struck with the controversial cleric, Muqtada Sadr. Saddam’s city was renamed “Sadr” city. That is when celebrations erupted on the streets of Baghdad. Crowds from Sadr city trampled on posters of Saddam Hussein and beat them with their sandals. American romance with the Shias of Iraq burgeoned. On March 20, 2005, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times recommended Grand Ayatullah Ali Sistani for the Nobel Prize. Sistani remains the blue-eyed Ayatullah because he differs from Tehran on the clergy’s role in governing the state.
Cheney’s contrivance of a quick victory in Iraq was matched by the energetic diplomacy of the US embassy in New Delhi. They persuaded South Block to participate in the American victory by taking over the administration of Iraq’s Kurdish North. A powerful cabinet minister like Jaswant Singh found the American blandishment tempting. Prime Minister Vajpayee, the as much a statesman as a skillful politician, rather than rubbish his cabinet colleagues, went into one of his extended spells of deep reflection.
He called up his friend A.B. Bardhan, Secretary-General of the CPI. “Are you supporting Indian occupation of Kurdish Iraq?”. Vajpayee taunted. “Not at all” exclaimed Bardhan. “But I see no protest”. Vajpayee continued. The Prime Minister was looking for signs of street restiveness on the issue to cite in opposing the idea. The source for this exchange was Bardhan. Vajpayee did not deny it.
This was a period of extraordinary tension between India and Pakistan. After the 2001 December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament, the two militaries were in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. On April 18, Vajpayee landed in Srinagar and, without a hint to his cabinet colleagues, held out his hand of peace to Pakistan. “An awesome power has arisen”. Regional quarrels have no meaning now. Conflicts in the region would have to be composed. The January 4, 2004 Indo-Pak summit in Islamabad followed.
Vajpayee found the “sole superpower” moment forbidding. Hence his quest for regional peace. Narender Modi’s crawl towards a regional entente is dictated by a different set of circumstances. Burgeoning China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan togetherness in the vicinity makes a friendly US look too distant.
Journalists of Worldview India remember April of 2003 for the kind of journalism Indian journalists have never practiced before or since. The idea was to cover the war and the occupation of Iraq from an Indian perspective. The western media would of course cover the occupation comprehensively but from its own perspective. Indeed, the embedded journalists would be part of the war effort. This would not be the Indian perspective unless New Delhi accepted the proposition that it was India’s war too. Indian media houses are tone-deaf on such issues.
For coverage of foreign affairs, they have deals with Reuters, BBC, CNN, FOX News, and so on — so much for atmnirbharta or self-sufficiency. A word of gratitude is owed to S.Y. Qureshi, Director General of Doordarshan, for having grasped the significance of the project. He fought the resistance in the system. The standard argument against covering foreign affairs was familiar. “Foreign affairs have low TRP ratings”.
Let Qureshi bear witness. Amitabh Bachchan’s Kaun Banega Crorepati had the highest ratings until Worldview India’s one-hour prime time reporting from the Gulf by dedicated reporters pipped it to the post. (IANS/JC)
High drama was witnessed in Kanpur Dehat for over an hour when a man, upset over his wife's alleged affair with a local man, climbed the tower with his children and threatened to commit suicide. The incident took place on Monday near Gandhi Nagar in Akbarpur, when the man threatened to commit suicide after throwing his kids down from a height of nearly 40-feet. Chaos prevailed around the area and the locals informed the police that rushed to the spot.
After about half-an-hour of convincing, the police managed to bring him and his children down. The man told the police that his wife's affair was going on with his neighbor. He had complained to the police, but no action was taken. Police said that as per the man, his wife had developed an illicit relationship with a man, living nearby their house. "As per the man, in his absence, his neighbor visited his house often. He said that he had reprimanded his neighbor many times, but to no avail," said the police.
The man had complained to the police, but no action was taken. | Pixabay
The man had also lodged a complaint with the police but no action was taken. On the other hand, Akbarpur police said that on the basis of the complaint, action for breach of peace has been taken against the neighbor accused of luring his wife. Circle officer (CO) Akbarpur Arun Kumar said that the police are trying to sort out the issue. "Whatever action is appropriate will be taken," the official added. (IANS/SP)
(Keywords : Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, man, wife, alleged, affair, children, India, police, neighbor, complaint, suicide, accuse, drama.)
The US forces continued their bombardment of buildings and institutions in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province, as part of their alleged manhunt of Islamic State (IS) fugitives, state news agency SANA reported. The US forces are shelling buildings and public institutions on Tuesday in the vicinity of the Sina'a prison in the Gweiran neighborhood in Hasakah "on the pretext of hunting down IS militants who fled the prison," said SANA.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry has slammed the US airstrikes as civilian casualties have been reported. | Wikimedia Commons
The shelling came in tandem with waves of raids by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to homes in the surrounding areas, rounding up many civilians and taking them to unknown locations, the state news agency added. On January 20, IS inmates inside the Sina'a prison, which is controlled by the SDF, started a riot that was coordinated with IS militants from outside, who detonated the prison's gates with two booby-trapped vehicles, succeeding to free some prisoners.
The incident triggered clashes between IS and the SDF as well as US airstrikes on the areas, where the IS fugitives could have sought shelter in, Xinhua news agency reported. The clashes and airstrikes are still ongoing as the SDF has so far failed to contain the situation and storm the prison. The Syrian Foreign Ministry has slammed the US airstrikes as civilian casualties have been reported. Hasakah province is largely controlled by the US-backed SDF, while certain areas, particularly in the city of Qamishli, are still under the control of the Syrian government. (IANS/ MBI)
(Keywords: US forces, shelling, bombarding, syria, islamic state, civilian casualties, qamishli, tandem, syrian democratic forces)
The circulating avian influenza outbreaks, including in India, do not seem to pose the 'high' risk but surveillance and biosecurity measures are necessary to reduce spillover risk between poultry and wild birds, a UN-backed scientific task force said. Throughout the past autumn and current winter in the northern hemisphere, multiple avian influenza outbreaks, caused predominantly by the H5N1 HPAI virus, plus other subtypes, including H5N8, have occurred in India, the UK, the Netherlands and Israel with the ever recorded mortality of the Svalbard barnacle geese in Solway Coast.
The Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds, co-convened by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), on Monday recommended that surveillance and biosecurity measures are reinforced to reduce spillover risk between poultry and wild birds. The Task Force has convened and produced recommendations and guidance for authorities and managers of countries affected or at risk. Wild birds, including globally threatened species, are victims of HPAI viruses causing avian influenza. Affected sites also include areas of international relevance for conservation such as protected wetlands.
More than 2,400 migratory water birds died in the Pong wetlands in Himachal last year because of avian influenza. | Unsplash
It is essential that authorities with responsibility for animal health apply the One Health approach for communicating and addressing avian influenza. That means recognising the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment and acting with a coordinated and unified approach. The Task Force reminds authorities of their international obligations to ensure their response to the pathogenic virus does not include the culling of wild birds, nor actions that would cause damage to natural ecosystems, especially wetlands.
Ruth Cromie, who coordinated the work of the Task Force and the production of the statement, said: "Avian influenza represents a One Health issue threatening health across the board. The highly pathogenic viruses are still relatively new in wild birds and this winter's high levels of mortality remind us of their vulnerability and that working to promote healthy wildlife benefits us all." H5N1 is currently the avian influenza lineage most found in Africa and Eurasia in both poultry and wild birds. The wide range of wild birds affected include wildfowl, waders, gulls, cranes, grebes, herons, pelicans, gamebirds, corvids and raptors (diurnal and nocturnal), in addition to sporadic cases in mammals such as red fox (Vulpes vulpes), Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) and harbor Phoca vitulina and grey seal Halichoerus grypus.
Consider occupational exposure, e.g. those working on poultry culling operations. | Unsplash
In terms of human health, the currently circulating H5N1 HPAI viruses do not seem to pose the same zoonotic risk as the 'original' Asian lineage H5N1 (clade 2.2 and their derivatives plus clade 18.104.22.168b H5N6 viruses currently in China). In general, the risk can be considered low, recognising that some agencies now consider occupational exposure, e.g. those working on poultry culling operations, as low or moderate. In India, several instances of bird flu were reported in 2021. More than 2,400 migratory water birds, and almost half of them being endangered bar-headed goose, died in the Pong wetlands in Himachal Pradesh last year and that avian influenza (H5N1) was the cause.
Besides the bar-headed goose, the other species that died were the shoveler, the river tern, the pochard and the common teal. An 11-year-old boy died at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi last year due to avian influenza, country's first fatality. India reported the first outbreak of avian influenza in 2006. RSPB Scotland is calling for an emergency local moratorium restricting shooting on the Solway for the rest of the wildfowling season. It calls for urgent action to reduce the devastating impacts of avian influenza. New statistics from the most recent counts show that the UK is this winter experiencing the worst outbreak of this deadly disease on record, with migratory geese which 'over winter' on the Solway being the hardest hit.
According to RSPB Scotland, the latest population counts of the Svalbard barnacle goose show a drop in numbers from 43,703 in November last year to 27,133 in this month's count. This represents a decline of 38 per cent in the Svalbard breeding population of this species from winter 2020-21. CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel said: "Through late 2021 and early 2022 there have been numerous outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, with severe impacts on migratory birds. "The CMS Secretariat responded by convening the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds together with the FAO. We are pleased to share its advice and key recommendations for countries affected or at risk, and look forward to continuing our collaborative work to minimize risks to humans, poultry and wild populations of migratory birds." (IANS/SP)
(Keywords : avian, influenza, surveillance, United Nation, scientists, breeding, population, birds, affected, countries, poultry, migratory, health, issue, virus, responsibility, international, ecosystem.)